This Video Proves Kids Are Safer Than Ever -- but Tell That to My Anxiety

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The terms "free-range" and "helicopter" might be relatively new additions to the child-rearing lexicon, but the divide between hands-off and hovering parents has existed for decades. Somewhere in the middle of that divide, you'll find parents like me. I'm a free-range mom at heart, but I still struggle with anxiety over the potential dangers my children face. That's why I can't stop thinking about this new video from the creator of the popular parenting blog Free-Range Kids -- it shows that keeping kids in a bubble is ultimately pointless because the risks we're protecting them from aren't nearly as common as we've been led to believe.

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Blogger and free-range mom Lenore Skenazy teamed up with Mike Kraus to create a video that explains why we, as parents, have come to misunderstand the reality of risk, and how the resulting fears we develop affect the way we raise our kids.

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"It will help your friends understand how society floods us with fear, how we're pre-programmed to hold onto the most horrifying images, and how our brains work like Google," Skenazy wrote about the video on her blog.

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She continued: "When we ask ourselves, 'Is X safe?' our brains retrieve the easiest information to find -- the scariest possible stories about some kid doing X. Unfortunately, the higher a story is in our brain's search results -- and the worst stories are always at the top -- the more likely we think it is, even though usually just the opposite is true!"

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Skeptical? Well, statistics don't lie -- and in this case, they might actually make you feel better. For example, let's say you have a near-pathological fear of shark attacks that prevents you from letting your kid swim in the ocean. According to Skenazy's video, it turns out your child has a greater chance of becoming president than being eaten by Jaws.

Or, if all the recent news has you so terrified of terrorists that you're afraid to put your family on a plane, you might want to consider the fact that Skenazy says the odds of winning an Oscar are greater than the odds of you or your child's becoming a victim of terrorism.

free range and helicopter kids
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Is your greatest fear that your child will be abducted? It's definitely one of mine, but guess what? He or she is actually more likely to be struck by lightning. Only about 100 child abductions by strangers happen every year, and one Harvard law blogger estimates that it would take an average of 26,000 years of a child sitting alone in a parking lot before an evil stranger came along and snatched him away the way you see in movies. Even then, only 50 percent of abductions end in a child's being killed. That boils down to approximately 50 kids being killed every year by random kidnappers -- while lightning strikes are responsible for an estimated 51 deaths per year in the US.

But don't take our word for it:

Who knew facts could be so comforting? Still, while it's no surprise that sensationalistic news stories are probably to blame for making us all a little skittish, I'm not completely convinced that knowing how rare these horrible occurrences actually are is going to stop any parent from worrying.

Here's the thing: I believe that having freedom will help my kids grow into capable and independent human beings, and I trust that they have decent judgment most of the time. But, when my 11-year-old son asked me recently if he could start walking home from school, I immediately said no. Why? Because he might get kidnapped, of course! Never mind that it's only a 10-minute walk and plenty of other kids would be walking at the same time. Never mind that our town was voted one of the top five safest places for kids in the US. I just can't help but think, what if? 

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I understand that, statistically, the odds are very low of my son's being dragged into a sketchy van and disappearing forever on his way home from school. I understand that my fear is irrational, in many ways. But that doesn't make the fear go away. That said, I suppose if there were ever a time when my son had no choice but to walk home from school, knowing the safety stats might help me feel a little bit better about it. But I still hate the idea.

helicopter vs free range kids
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That's why, even though I think this video is useful and has the potential to be helpful (watching it is one way we can talk ourselves down from freaking out about things we can't control, at least), I don't think it's going to make any helicopter parents convert to free-range. Ultimately, we parent the way we parent because we're hardwired to do it that way. Sure, educating ourselves can inform the choices we make, but a set of statistics isn't going to turn someone who's predisposed to anxiety into a laid-back optimist. (I wish!)

Either way, it's still good to know that these tragedies and crimes we're so afraid of don't happen nearly as often as we think. And, it's good to know that overall, our kids are more likely to stay safe and healthy than not. The world is a scary place, yes -- but not all the time.

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